Tinsukia: Days after the death of a 50-year-old tea worker due to COVID-19 at the civil hospital in Tinsukia, serious exploitation allegations over the COVID-19 funeral have been levelled against the local civic body on Saturday, prompting an inquiry by the Tinsukia district administration.
The charges, including demanding and accepting money towards municipality fees and ambulance charges without providing money receipts, were made on Twitter by the medical officer of Daimukhia tea estate doctor Jiten Borgohain, who is also the chairman of the IMA Assam Plantations Doctors Committee.
On Saturday, Borgohain tweeted: “In Tinsukia for funeral of a Covid case, relatives have to spend Rs 2000/ on PPE kits + Rs 2000/ as municipality fees + Rs 2000/ as Ambulance charges! Total Rs 6000/ ! But No receipt on Municipality & Ambulance charges! @DC_office_tsk”
When Borgohain was asked for proof, he tweeted a ‘bill’ of Rs 6,000 towards COVID burial charges signed by one Surya Tanti and said: “The relatives of Durgadas Tanti of Daimukhia TE paid it. Bill was put up to me for sanctioning. The party paid it without getting a receipt! What proof you require? This is nothing but exploitation during this pandemic times.”
The bill, submitted by Tanti, mentions PPE kit for Rs 2,000, municipality charges for burial Rs 2,000 and municipality ambulance charges Rs 2,000.
The tweet left the district administration embarrassed and red-faced. Soon, more details started emerging to counter the allegations by pointing out the difference in the date mentioned in the bill towards the purchase of the PPE kit and the death of the patient, indicating some kind of foul play.
When contacted, Tanti, son of the deceased, told EastMojo that the municipality people are exploiting COVID-19 victims’ families. “Will one think of collecting bills at a time when his father has died of COVID?”, Tanti responded to clear the air on the difference of date.
Narrating his ordeal, Tanti said his father tested positive for COVID-19 on May 31 and was shifted to the civil hospital in Tinsukia in the tea estate’s ambulance. Two days later he died on June 2. “On receiving the information, I and a few locals rushed to Tinsukia from Daimukhia tea estate near Doomdooma. On the way to Tinsukia, we purchased 4 PPE kits from a shop in Doomdooma for our safety as suggested by the locals,” Tanti added.
“At the cremation site, hardly a km from the civil hospital, the ambulance driver charged Rs 2,000 for bringing my father’s body. The municipality people took Rs 2,000 more,” Tanti said, adding “Neither we were given any receipt, nor we asked for one as we were in deep distress.”
There were two more guardian-less COVID-19 deceased patients whose funeral pyres were lit beside my father’s funeral. “I fail to understand from whom did they ask for ambulance charges and other charges in these cases since their families were not present. They are simply extracting money from those who are present for the last rites of their loved ones,” Tanti alleged.
However, Tanti said they brought the PPE kit for their safety and was not demanded by municipality employees.
Deputy Commissioner of Tinsukia, Narsing Pawar, said, “I have ordered an inquiry to ascertain the facts. The DDMA has been asked to submit the report by Monday.”
“The district administration is covering all the expenses related to the funeral of people who have died due to COVID-19,” Pawar said, “We have increased the expenditure limit from Rs 5,000 to Rs 7,000 per funeral to ensure the last rites can take place respectfully and properly.”
Pawar said it was important that truth comes out in the open. “In case the allegations are found to be fake and concocted, we will act accordingly to ensure health workers and other frontline workers are not demoralised by levelling false allegations. If anyone comes across such incidents, they may approach the district administration so that we can act and ensure other families don’t have to go through such things,” he added.
Meanwhile, the executive officer of Tinsukia Municipal Board, Niluram Sarmah, said they were incurring an expenditure of about Rs 7,000 per COVID funeral. “It includes Rs 1,500 towards fuel for ambulances as most COVID-19 deaths are taking place in Assam Medical College and Hospital in Dibrugarh, Rs 500 each for ambulance driver and helper, seven PPE kits worth Rs 2,100, Rs 2,850 towards wood for the funeral, among others,” Sarmah explained.
“Below Poverty Line (BPL) families don’t have to pay a single rupee while families above poverty line (APL) pay for the woods for the funeral and the person working at the cremation ground,” Sarmah added.
Last year, during the first wave of COVID-19, a teenage girl had alleged that the civic body officials had demanded a few thousand rupees from her family for the funeral of her father who died of COVID-19, creating an uproar among citizens, compelling the then deputy commissioner Bhaskar Pegu order an inquiry.
However, the inquiry report is yet to be made public.
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